Mon | Jan 21, 2019

In-School Productivity Campaign | Millennials & telecommuting - Productivity myths busted by recent research

Published:Monday | January 15, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Asanya Dinnall

Today, Millennials (Generation Y) are moving into management roles in the workplace, starting families, and more than ever before, they are choosing to work from home rather than opting for an office environment. Working from home, also known as telecommuting, is becoming more common in the business environment. However, misconceptions about this practice persists, both in Jamaica and globally.

A study conducted in 2013 by Nicholas Bloom, professor of economics at Stanford University, and graduate student James Liang, who is a co-founder of Chinese travel website Ctrip, proved that working at home increased productivity and should be encouraged in the business environment. The study involved 249 employees in the airfare and hotel departments of the Shanghai Call Center who volunteered to work from home for nine months. Half the volunteers would telecommute, while the rest remained in the office as a control group.

Below are four prevalent myths and the truth, based on the study by Bloom and Associate.


Myth 1: Employees that worked from home are less productive than in-office workers.


Truth: The employees that worked from home led to a 13 per cent increase in performance. Home workers also reported improved work satisfaction and experienced less turnover.


Myth 2: Telecommuters work fewer hours.


Truth: The study also proved that of the 13 per cent performance increase, about nine per cent was from working more minutes per shift (fewer breaks and sick days) and four per cent from more calls per minute (attributed to a quieter working environment).


Myth 3: It is costly for a company to employ telecommuters. The company has to invest in software for telecommuting and to track the employees' work. Also, they have to invest in desks and equipment for each telecommuter.


Truth: Overhead costs decreased because of reduction in office spaces, a decrease in money spent on rent, furniture and maintenance. Bloom and Associate state that Ctrip estimated a savings of approximately US$2,000 per year per employee working at home.


Myth 4: It is difficult to contact and communicate with employees who work from home.


Truth: There are various ways in which communication can be effective. The companies can provide digital methods of socialisation such as Skype, Zoom, or another technology. Video calls and offsite meet-ups are some ways that telecommuters can foster communication. As with Ctrip, they allowed their telecommuters to come in office one day per week.

Millennial workers tend to have a high attrition rate, working from home is one way to reduce this. Based on the study, attrition fell by 50 per cent for telecommuters compared to the control group. The point is, millennials are choosing to work from home (or any other comfortable place) as opposed to in the office. And, across the world, telecommuting is on the rise.

So for this new year, 2018, make it a productive one. Consider encouraging some employees to telecommute, evaluate if it could work for your company. It may save money, save energy, save time. Furthermore, given the increased traffic congestion in Jamaica's urban centres, it may well be a useful innovation for 2018.

- Asanya Dinnall is research officer in the Research and Measurement Unit of the Jamaica Productivity Centre